Just as secret negotiations can sometimes break a public deadlock, public disclosure may help to break a secret deadlock.

— President Nixon

For much of President Nixon’s first term, the secret diplomatic meetings between chief North Vietnamese negotiator Le Duc Tho and President Nixon’s National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger took on a battle of psychological willpower. Indeed, the administration dealt with a counterpart equally steadfast and manipulative.   

Since the secret talks began at the end of 1969, the North Vietnamese had been able to take advantage of the power that American domestic reaction had on the administration’s conduct in Vietnam. For over a year, Hanoi played a cynical diplomatic game of engage and retreat with the United States, all the while continuing their military assault on South Vietnamese cities (blatant violations of the 1968 bombing halt agreement). Any constructive proposal offered by the United States met with the filibustering tactics of Hanoi’s skilled negotiators; they would haggle over certain details but stubbornly insisted on the overthrow of South Vietnam’s president Nguyen Van Thieu as sine qua non for reaching any agreement. As an honest ally of the South Vietnamese, this was a position the United States could not take.        

Since no progress was made via secret channels, North Vietnam held the advantage in the public sphere. They would announce that the Americans had offered nothing constructive, attacking the government for being inflexible and disinterested in reaching a peace agreement. They would publicly imply possible solutions that they had already flatly rejected in private channels. What the North Vietnamese announced publicly contradicted their obstruction secretly.  

President Nixon, seeing the lack of progress at the peace table, took bold action to change the course of these discussions to put negotiating power back in U.S. hands. On January 25, 1972, he exposed the secret peace talks to the world in a nationally televised address, revealing how the North Vietnamese had sabotaged peace time and again when it suited their own ends. With this address, President Nixon showed the American public the sincerity of his administration’s approach while also putting North Vietnam in the defensive position.  

Watch the entire address: